When U.S. president Abraham Lincoln wanted to enshrine certain historic events forever in the minds of his hearers, he started with: “Four score and seven years ago, …” and followed with the most significant analysis and motivation in American history. In his now-famous Gettysburg Address, he pointed his hearers in two directions: back to the framing of the American Constitution, and also forward to a future they would have a part in shaping, based on the freedoms that document codifies.
I invite you to reflect on what happened, not “four score and seven years ago,” but 150 years ago. What happened then was the official founding of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Following what appeared to be a disastrous disappointment in 1844, 20 people met at Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1863 to decide what direction their small group should take, and where they should go from here. Like us, they wanted to make a difference. And they did. They “formed the ‘General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists’ — an organized church, focused on mission and on proclaiming the good news of a God who created us, lived among us, died for us, and redeems us.”
Notably, many of our founders were young people. African-Americans and Chinese numbered among the ordained preachers and medical missionaries. Women carried key responsibilities from the church’s earliest days. At first, the church was small, and progress came slowly. But in the years since 1900, the growth of our church has been exponential. Today, the Seventh-day Adventist Church has a missionary presence in 200 countries of the world and is on course to have a membership of 20,000,000 by 2020. In this way, united for mission, the eternal gospel is being proclaimed to those who live on the earth — to every nation, tribe, language and people, by every nation, tribe, language and people.
The worldwide church has designated May 18, 2013, a day of prayer, remembrance, and focus on mission. Each local congregation is encouraged to mark the “sesquicentennial” of Seventh-day Adventists being united for mission. Each member is called to advance with purpose and courage.
In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln did not leave his hearers with thoughts directed only to the past. On the contrary, he challenged them to ensure that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” In the same way, we should keep our sights on the bright future that awaits everyone who is faithful and loves Christ’s appearing (see 2 Timothy 4:8). If our pioneers’ lives made a difference — as it clearly did — how much of a difference can your life make? The future that awaits us is much brighter than the past that inspires us. Now is not the time to become distracted with the thought of just having a good career, a comfortable life, and all the nice things that go with such things. These things are good, but there is more. I challenge you to live your lives in a way that is successful, yes, but that also claims your place in history and truly makes a difference.
—Lisa M. Beardsley-Hardy,
Lisa M. Beardsley-Hardy (Ph.D., University of Hawai’i at Manoa) is director of education, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist Church, Silver Spring, Maryland, USA. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org